The St. Louis Business Journal recently profiled Elias LLC in a cover story, “Small Firm Sues Giant Bank Over Mexican Drug Killings.” The article focuses on Elias LLC’s new case against HSBC on behalf of U.S. victims of drug cartel terrorism:
Less than a year ago, lawyers Richard Elias, Greg Gutzler and Tamara Spicer left Korein Tillery to form a small firm specializing in complex civil and commercial litigation nationwide. Already they have a doozy: They’re suing a $2.7 trillion British bank, accusing it of violating the 1996 AntiTerrorism Act by laundering drug money from Mexican drug dealers who killed U.S. citizens.
The suit, filed Feb. 9 in federal court in Brownsville, Texas, was brought on behalf of families of Americans killed. The bank, HSBC, which is based in London, paid $1.9 billion to the U.S. in 2012 to resolve a criminal investigation into whether it laundered at least $881 million in drug money for Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. A 2012 Senate report said HSBC had a “pervasively polluted” culture….
The lawsuit seeks “the maximum amount” allowed under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which Elias said is whatever the jury decides, with that amount automatically tripled by the court under the law.
How did a startup law firm in St. Louis end up leading this charge? “Anti-terrorism has been an area we have been interested in,” said Elias, who worked as a prosecutor for three years at the Department of Justice and led an investigation into J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s securitization of billions of dollars in defective mortgages that resulted in a $13 billion settlement. In addition, at Korein Tillery, the three lawyers were involved in litigation against large corporations in mortgage-backed securities.
“We have a lot of experience suing very large firms,” Elias said. As for HSBC and the drug cartels, Elias said he remembered the $13 billion settlement from his time in the Justice Department. “I looked at the statute and the definition of terrorism, and the cartels fit into that,” he said. “We reached out to American victims of what we felt was terrorism. We saw it as a strategy: victims with claims, and no one doing anything about it.”
Elias headed to Texas and met with families, explaining what his firm planned to do and why it was doing it. Those meetings resulted in the lawsuit, which describes the killings in graphic detail…. The lawsuit also notes: “From January 2008 through March 2010, there were over 6,000 casualties in Ciudad Juárez alone, more than the U.S. military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.”